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The application for the 2023-2024 Obama Foundation Scholars Program at Columbia University is now open!

January 19, 2023 at 5:00PM EST.

The Obama Foundation Scholars program will give rising leaders from the United States and around the world who are already making a difference in their communities the opportunity to take their work to the next level through an immersive curriculum that brings together academic, skills-based, and hands-on learning.

The Scholars program at Columbia University and the University of Chicago empowers individuals with a proven commitment to service with the tools they need to make their efforts more effective, to identify innovative solutions to complex global problems, and promote change through values-based leadership.

The program will build lasting relationships among emerging leaders who are committed to working together to solve the most pressing challenges of our time, thereby creating a global network that reaches across issues and borders. After completing the program, Obama Foundation Scholars will:

Return to work on their global issue of focus and implement their personalized action plan to accelerate positive change within their community. 
 Have an opportunity to play a role in the Obama Foundation’s efforts to inspire, empower, and connect rising leaders from around the globe.
You can get to know our previous classes of Obama Foundation Scholars and see highlights from their time together here.


The Obama Foundation offers a robust curriculum of leadership development, training, networking activities, and customized support throughout the academic year to help the Obama Scholars gain the real-world skills, tools, and experiences they need to expand the impact of their work when they return home. These experiences allow Scholars to gain insights from high-level leaders across sectors and from the wealth of knowledge across the network of Obama Foundation program participants while planning the way they’d like to reinvest their new skills, networks, and knowledge after they graduate from the program.

Foundation-led activities include both cohorts of Scholars, based at UChicago and Columbia, with the aim of creating a broader global community of practice for shared learning to both inform Scholars’ approaches to their own work and accelerate that work as they return to their communities after graduation. Each cohort’s experience is tailored to tap into the rich research ecosystems of these two world-class institutions and the cities where they are based, providing unique and immersive learning opportunities for Scholars in Chicago and New York City.

Key components of the experience led by the Obama Foundation include:

  • An orientation program to welcome the cohort to the Obama Foundation community and a concluding graduation program to celebrate the cohort’s achievements and present their action plans. 
  • Leadership Development Workshops and Conversations designed to improve Scholars’ ability to tell the story of their work, reflect and refine their leadership approach, and build sustained, personal resilience. Through a variety of virtual session formats, Scholars also hear about the innovative solutions coming from the Obama Foundation program participant alumni community and have conversations with high-level thought leaders across sectors.
  • Development and refinement of an action plan that draws on their experiences throughout the program, centered around their initiative of focus and their future vision for their work.
  • Connections across the growing alumni community, the Foundation facilitates direct connections between current Obama Scholars and prior cohorts, based on their issues of focus. 
  • Tailored support including an executive coach and strategic communications and fundraising experts to aid Scholars in their action plan development, and their own progression over their leadership journey.

Columbia University

Obama Foundation Scholars at Columbia University will participate in Columbia World Projects, an initiative that mobilizes the university’s researchers and scholars to work with governments, organizations, businesses, and communities to create tangible solutions to real-world issues. The program will also take advantage of the unique opportunities for engagement that come with being at one of the world’s most important centers of research and residing in New York City.

Scholars participate in an immersive program that brings together academic, skills-based and experiential learning, designed by Columbia University in consultation with the Obama Foundation.


The University of Chicago

Students in their final year of study in a Master’s program at one of three Schools at the University of Chicago: the Harris School of Public Policy; Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice; and Booth School of Business will participate in the Obama Foundation Scholars program at the University of Chicago.

With a particular focus on the neighborhoods near campus, this program will provide opportunities for students to experience and examine how community engaged partnerships on the South Side of Chicago can inform scalable solutions that can, in turn, help solve pervasive problems in communities around the world. Over the course of this one-year program, students will develop a distinctly interdisciplinary approach to advancing social change, and they will leave the University and program prepared to reinvest this experience and committed to working to address complex social challenges through impactful careers across sectors and the world.

In addition to students’ degree coursework, the University of Chicago will organize and lead a series of supplemental initiatives that bring Scholars across the schools together to engage with a curated selection of University researchers, civic leaders, and social sector practitioners to bring academic insights to bear in creating scalable solutions around the world.

Key components of the program at the University of Chicago include:

  • Community Impact Seminars that draw from faculty across the University’s research and impact ecosystem, designed to help students better understand how engaged scholarship can bridge rigorous research with the practice of uplifting communities–from Chicago’s South Side to around the globe.
  • Quarterly Civic Treks that bring Scholars off-campus to meet with and learn from civic leaders and community activists who are confronting pressing social issues that shape Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods and are of critical concern to communities around the world. Through these treks, Scholars will develop sustained relationships with civic practitioners who are working on the South Side and access new opportunities to support local nonprofits.
  • Scholars will have an exclusive opportunity each quarter to meet with, question, and learn from the Institute of Politics Pritzker Fellows, a diverse cohort of elected officials, diplomats, policymakers, activists, nonprofit leaders, and journalists.
  • Paired mentorship with accomplished professionals from their University of Chicago schools’ alumni community to help them connect their coursework with the practical day-to-day challenges and opportunities that await them in their careers.

Students entering their final year of a Master’s program at one of three Schools at the University of Chicago: the Harris School of Public Policy; Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice; and Booth School of Business are eligible to apply for the Obama Foundation Scholars Program at the University of Chicago.



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